CBP has scaled back its border technology ambitions


PHOENIX, ARIZ.--Technology procurement at Customs and Border Protection is much less ambitious than it used to be, Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for CBP's Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, said here at the Border Security Expo March 13.

"Our strategy going forward is a much more pedestrian strategy. I'm perfectly comfortable getting 80 percent of what I'd like if I can get it quickly, if it's available today, and if it costs a reasonable amount," Borkowski said in his keynote address.

CBP learned from the ill-fated SBInet program that it wasn't ready to develop a complex technology that didn't already exist, he said. Instead, he said, the agency should've sought a product it could buy right away, and going forward it should buy lower-end technology that's available instead of investing in cutting-edge, risky solutions.

The agency has also found it challenging to measure how much of the border is covered by detection or surveillance technology, he said, much as it has struggled to accommodate calls for a metric for border security. One could deem 100 percent of the border covered by technology because unmanned aerial surveillance can patrol the whole border, but that doesn't explain the reach of border technology in practical terms, he said.

Besides aerial surveillance, CBP relies on ground sensors, fixed towers, and other tools. The variety of technology makes it hard to measure its impact, Borkowski said. "Maybe this is a 'We know it when we see it.'"

As for future technologies, Borkowski said CBP is looking for a means to detect cross-border tunnels. The agency plans to fund a study soon to find ideas to solve the tunneling problem.

Existing tunnel technologies aren't consistent across geological conditions, Borkowski said, and CBP may create a prize competition to find something that works. That approach to acquisitions will likely become more common at CBP in the near future, he also said.

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